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Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Christmas Market at Champs Elysees, Paris- A memorable moment in time from my Travel Dream Trail

"Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” said  Ibn Battuta and I couldn't agree with him more!

The joy of travel is something that was inculcated deep into my soul by my parents who used every opportunity and vacation time that my brother and myself had to travel. With them, we learnt to see, taste and experience the wonders of travel and in return we were rewarded  by a certain knowledge of our country and the world that far surpassed that which could be gained from regular books. 

Did we enjoy it? A definite yes! Those growing years left me with a deep seated conviction in the wonders of travel and soon after my marriage we moved to Oman where we then stayed on for over two decades, this passion for travel was only intensified as we used all opportunities that we could to travel ..and then some!

In fact, my very first book 'A Safe Harbour' was based in Oman as well as India and I was highly gratified when it received some very good reviews. My second book, 'Point of No Return' was set in Istanbul, Turkey after I'd visited it and realised that it made a fantastic setting for a crime thriller. And finally, my third book 'An Autumn Melody' was set in UK and India - another country that I've visited and grown to love over the years.

Art, culture, food and music - for me they are all very important, and since I'm an avid photographer as well, I try to capture all these moments and turn them into memories by clicking photographs and sharing them with the world.

And now, like Ibn Batuta, I'm going to turn into the proverbial storyteller and delve into my store of memorable experiences and share one such delightful  experience with all of you. 

     I succumbed and this sweet little elf is making my packet of Churros 

A  couple of years ago I was in Paris in late November and to my delight I learnt that the famed annual Christmas Market at the Champs Elysees was already up and running.

Without further ado, I decided  to make my way there and check it out.It was a cold, crisp and beautiful evening and the overall atmosphere was one of joie de vivre and good cheer. People of all nationalities mingled with each other and delightful and tempting fragrances floated from every corner possible.

If I was to choose one word to describe my feelings as soon as I got there, would be' Fabulous"! 

It was everything that I'd ever imagined a Christmas fair to be and then some!

The Champs Elysees was transformed into a 'winter wonderland' of sheer holiday fun and gaiety with twinkling Christmas lights, rows and rows of little wooden chalets selling a delightful array of  foods, sweets and all kinds of gifts. It even had a little amusement park with roller coaster and rides for kids. This Christmas Market is set up along both sides of the Champs-Elysées between Rond Point and the Place de la Concorde, but the atmosphere is festive all along the Champs-Elysées right up to the Arc de Triomphe.

The heady fragrance of of mulled wine, coffee, roasting chestnuts, crepes,  Shwarmas, hot dogs, burgers, cheese and anything else that you could possibly imagine hung in the air and it was that which proved to be my undoing. 

First it was the Churros that I  just had to eat, followed by a whole bar of real country made French chocolate. 

                    Christmas is in the air

Champs Elysees, the superb location 

                                       Spoilt for choice

Something to make all the kids happy

What I found particularly fascinating was how men and women come here from all over Europe  and set up their stalls. It was truly a representation of the very best that Europe could serve up on a plate! Must add here that it wasn't only food and drink that was being lapped up by all who were there, the array of Christmas gifts for friends and family was mind boggling as well.

Scarves, small homemade items, soap, cheese, bread, cookies, trinkets-I could go on and on and my list would probably remain incomplete. Sounds cliched, I know, but this is exactly where the term, 'spoilt for choice' is probably what comes closest to what everyone present was thinking. All I could see was people shopping, then taking a break to eat, then getting on with it ..

All over again!

The afternoon passed and evening dawned, I was still there and about 5 hours later, made my way back home, happy and content with the spirit of Christmas having warmed the cockles of my heart and staying right there....

Was I satisfied with just one visit? The answer predictably is 'No'. A few days later I was back there and this time, I had the advantage of knowing exactly what I wanted to check out. 

That particular trip to France also gave me the opportunity to check out some of the finest museums for art and culture in addition to the Louvre where the world famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is placed. Thousands and thousands of people file past those beautiful places everyday and I can say with confidence that all of them go back to their own countries enriched by all the beautiful and memorable places that that they have been privileged to see.

Another quick memory of a delightful cafe in Paris  -A short walk brought us  to this very warm and welcoming scene, a Cafe restaurant la bucherie,  where a friendly waitress took our orders , promising to be very quick to serve.  
I loved the Menu
This little cafe was also the place where I saw the largest cocktail  I'd ever seen in my life and was just beginning to wonder if anyone ever drank something like this, when the guests at two adjoining tables placed orders for one each.Needless to say, two people shared one, but I am still surprised!
The Giant cocktail, a specialty of the house

  1.                  My dinner,  a Croque-monsieur

I'd placed an order for a 'Croque monsieur', and was delighted when it was served !( the name is based on the verb croquer and the word monsieur)
 a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. It originated in French cafés and bars as a quick snack. Typically, Emmental or Gruyère cheese is used. Delightful delicious and very memorable

That was certainly one of the best meals I've  ever eaten! 

For me, travel is something which I treasure and enjoy totally. Whether it be a solo trip or one with my family, each of these is special in its own way and the rewards- manifold.

To close, all I'd like to say, " Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer"

I am blogging about my dreams and passions for the Club Mahindra#DreamTrails activity at BlogAdda. You can get a Club Mahindra Membership to own your holidays!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Memories that linger and Ships at Sea- At the Matrah Corniche Oman

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When in Oman, one of my favourite 'things to do' is to head towards Muscat Harbour and the Corniche whenever I get the opportunity

More so if it's approaching twilight.

For that is really the time when one gets to see the best possible views, combined with some great 'photo-ops'.

Such as this one, one evening some time back.

When I saw one of the biggest ships that came calling into Muscat Port and one which created a big buzz for days after that.

But I really find it difficult to decide which was the moment I liked best.

The time when it was just twilight, or when it became dark and the ship moved onto the seas and then headed towards its next port of call.

Moving on and ahead- Next port of call

Wonder what you all thought...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dealing with weight woes and the balancing act

As the old adage goes, 'You can never be too rich or too thin' and while I’m not going to debate the first part of that statement, it’s the second part I’m talking about today.

Imagine this scenario (and it's something that almost everybody will identify with almost instantaneously).

You’re at a party and enjoying yourself and a certain lady enters. Now, she’s someone who you haven’t seen for a while, so you can clearly see that she’s gained some weight. That’s when you hear someone  telling her how great she looks and that outfit of hers is 'to die for!' She smiles, says a polite ‘thank you’ and turnsaway to talk to someone else. And then you hear the first lady tell the group of people she’s standing with” Have you seen how much weight she’s gained?”Those words say it all, they define a mindset that people have- that a person must look a certain way and maintain a certain weight and heaven help them if he/she has added a few extra pounds!

Here’s another scenario, you walk into an event and someone tells you that you’ve lost weight. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it? That’s because you have probably made your weight a significant part of your sense of self esteem and because those words touch that part of your psyche, it makesyou feel happy. Each one to their own of course, and I’m no one to pass judgmentbut I’ve known of so many cases where weight gain has made some of my friendsand acquaintances so miserable that they have resorted to shelling out big bucks and going in for weight loss treatments - some of which do work, but an equal number of them don’t. Sadly, the fact of the matter is that weight loss becomes more difficult as a person ages, so for all those over 40 and trying to manage their weight, it would be great to keep that in perspective.
It's no secret that Oprah Winfrey has struggled with her weight for decades. Over the years, she's spoken candidly about bouncing from one diet to the next. In 1992, Oprah lost a considerable amount of weight and by her 50th birthday  in 2004, she seemed to have her health and weight under control. But that weight seems to come backt ime and again and she continues to be candid about it. Watching Aishwarya Rai walking the red carpet at Cannes a few years back was an eye opener. Here was 'the most beautiful woman in the world' with at least 20 extra pounds post motherhood,seemingly happy with the way she looks. In the interview that followed, she talked of coming back to films, but nowhere did I hear her mention her rush to lose that weight. Made me think, how very different her approach was from the Victoria Beckhams and the Beyonces after they had their babies.

On a less serious note, ‘The toughest part of a diet isn't watching what you eat. It's watching what other people eat!’ 

This was a line that I posted on my FB profile some time back and was amazed at the number of comments that it generated. To cut the long story short, most of them were incomplete agreement with the line and ruefully acknowledged that that it was 'oh so true'.

As someone who has been through the ‘Yo Yo’ syndrome myself,I consider myself as somewhat of an authority to talk about it. Diets are indeed a hard act to follow through and it is the easiest thing in the world to fall off the wagon. You gain some, then decide to lose it, which you do up to a point then get fed up, or just plain bored And that’s where the cycle starts all over again. So at this point in my life, this is where I'm at. I eat all that I want to for a few days, then do the balancing act for the next few. That way I'm able to successfully maintain at least the semblance of a ‘status quo’.

But for all that I do/don't do, what I definitely try and do is walk off some of it away. At least five evenings a week I set out and try and do about 30-45 minutes at as brisk a pace that I'm able to manage on that given day. It mostly works for me,  try it and I'm fairly sure that it will work for you as well.

NB- This piece was originally written for my column My Take in Muscat Daily

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Monsoon Magic in Delhi-Some photographs

The monsoon is here and love it or hate it, you just can't ignore it.

So while many people will share their stories of waterlogged roads, stalled vehicles and long traffic jams, I thought of sharing some photographs  clicked over the course of the last few days.

Driving towards Rashtrapati Bhavan

Vijay Chowk-in the heart of Delhi

Old and very beautiful- Hauz Khaz
On a lovely afternoon

Looking down and loving it

Of Bygone Days

Another beautiful view

Green, clean Refreshing and 

Of Bygone Days

Mysterious and alluring

Could it possibly be more beautiful?

Would love to know what you thought- so please do let me know.Meantime, don't forget to carry your umbrella whenever you step out.

Wishing all of you a great monsoon !

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Adventures of Arabia- A memorable visit Zafraniya in Muscat, Oman

Some time ago, close to sunset, we found ourselves in 'Zafraniya', or as is sometimes better known, Hillat Al Zadjali. It is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Muscat and certainly one of the prettiest. 
A lovely old home
Unexpected delights

Walking through, we came upon an old graveyard, with some children playing nearby, sometimes even running across the unmarked graves. It all seemed so natural, the 
football, the cycling and the running around. Yet one thought did cross my mind, whose graves were they sometimes stepping on?

Moving on, we came across one of the prettiest houses that I've seen, and here are a couple of pics to show you some of it. It was just like  a picture book house, yet there was a clear difference. It was all so 'lived in' with some hens clucking and eating their grain in the courtyard, kids swinging on their 'jhoolas' and ladies having their tea.

But the 'adventure of Arabia', as I like to term it. wasn't yet over. Moving on, we reached an old Shiva temple where worshippers were just going in for their evening prayer. 

A very old Shiva Temple 
Just as I stepped in the temple bells began to toll, and simultaneously, I could hear the sound of the 'Muezzin' calling the faithful for their evening prayer.

Talk of harmony, it was really and truly in that air...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Children being taken for adult movies -Lessons in parenting and how cinema halls must adhere to rules

Some time back we went for an evening show of a particularly gruesome adult Hindi movie in Muscat  There were not too many people in the hall, which was not surprising, considering that many people are away for the summer. But what I found shocking was what happened a few minutes later.

A family walked in and settled down fairly close to where we were seated. The movie had already started and while I was focused on what was happening on screen, my attention was soon drawn to the sound of little ones' voices as they giggled and talked.

Looking around, I was aghast to see that three kids who were probably not more than ten years of age had been brought into the hall by their parents, who were comfortably seated with their drinks and popcorn. And all the while that the movie ran, they watched it comfortably, irrespective of what impact scenes of gruesome violence, killing and sex can have on those little minds.

As if to prove my point, one of the little girls started crying when a murder was being committed on screen, and it was only when the crying turned into terrified sobs that the mother took the girl outside, only to return a few minutes later!

I firmly believe that parents like this need to be educated about the grave damage this sort of movie viewing can have on impressionable young minds. But even more than that, I believe that cinema halls here must have the will and the wherewithal to firmly exercise their right to stop children from watching movies that have been given adult certification. 

So what if a few tickets don’t sell?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Gift of Flowers

I am convinced that one of the easiest way to make oneself happy is to go and look at flowers. 

They are just so......

And any word you can think of is probably the right one to fit in here.

But even better, why don't you make someone else happy by gifting them flowers?

Take it from me, that is really the best present you can give.

Try it and see...

The rewards can be something that will wrap you up in a warm glow for a long, long time...